In the area of mentoring programs for foster youth, Munson and colleagues (2010) suggest that “relational research, interviewing both members of the relationship individual and together offers the possibility of moving beyond our understanding of one person’s perception of the relationship” (p. 534). We believe the same could be said of mentoring programs for foster parents. Though mentor services have long been recognized as important, missing from the research are the voices and perspectives of those providing and receiving mentor services. If mentor programs are to meet their full promise, these limitations in the current literature should be addressed.
Underpinning this study is the idea that mentoring programs may help mitigate challenges associated with fostering. The concepts of risk and resilience provide a theoretical foundation to frame how foster parent mentors nurture resilience and help mentees adapt to challenges faced in the first few months of fostering. This qualitative study uses interpretive description and adapted dyadic analysis to understand the challenges faced by new foster parents and how foster parent mentors counsel them through these challenges.
Primary data collected were collected from foster parents currently participating in a foster parent mentor program. Mentor program coordinators helped recruit potential participants via informational letters; following receipt of these letters, these individuals were contacted, told about the study, and invited to participate in a face to face, in-depth interview. The final study sample comprised of 22 foster parents who represented 10 mentor/ mentee dyads. Mentee participants (n = 11) had been fostering less than six months and the length of time mentors had been fostering ranged from 37.5 years to 3 years (M = 9.35; SD = 9.69). All participants were White and all were married except for one mentee.
Techniques of dyadic analysis (Eisikovits & Koren, 2010; Manning & Kunkel, 2015) were adapted and used along with open coding, focused coding, and memo writing. The dynamics between the mentor and mentee were of primary focus. The units of analysis were both individual participants as well as the relationship between mentor and mentee being viewed as a discrete case.
Data analysis reveals that challenges faced by new foster parents and counsel from foster parent mentors centered around four themes. First, fostering involves loss and emotional pain; foster parents must permit themselves to grieve in order to persevere in fostering. Second, taking breaks—brief and longer breaks—was integral to being resilient as a foster parent. Third, setting both emotional and role boundaries was described as necessary to survive in fostering. Lastly, resilience needed for longevity as a foster parent meant viewing fostering is a “family affair”; mentors directed new foster parents to be responsive to the needs of the family unit.
Conclusion and Implications:
This study contributes to the knowledge base by identifying ways in which foster parent mentoring can help foster parents remain engaged, increase placement stability and satisfaction with their role as foster parents, and support competency and development of skills related to fostering.